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Review: Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi

This graphic memoir depicts the childhood of Marjane Satrapi during and after the Islamic Revolution in Iran.  She remembers when she first was required to wear a headscarf, when school changed, when she learned the danger of protesting, among many other things in a rapidly changing world.  Interspersed with the severity of the revolution is the fact that the author was definitely a child; she was jealous of other people’s fathers because they’d been in prison and become “heroes” with cool stories, for example, and she decides that she wants to be a prophet.  With simply drawn black-and-white pictures, this memoir successfully reminds us that people in Iran are still people like us, only living in far different circumstances.

I loved The House of the Mosque, which I read last week, and then Dawn at She is Too Fond of Books recommended this one in a review, and Andrea at Canongate Books left me a comment saying she had this one as well.  I’d heard of it before, but this all just seemed like huge incentive to read it now.  So naturally, I went to the library and took it out immediately, and it’s so short that I managed to read it the same day.

I really enjoyed it.  I felt like Persepolis dealt with tough issues but had that human touch throughout.  I appreciated the author’s mission to show us that Iran is more than terrorism and weapons, it’s an ancient culture with real people.  It certainly has problems now, but there’s no reason to forget its past and the fact that all the people who live there are not exactly thrilled with their own government.  The author, for example, is thrilled when her parents smuggle her modern posters, clothes, and a Michael Jackson button, only for her to get in trouble when women who are more committed to the new government see her in her new jeans and jacket.

I even liked the black-and-white drawings.  They’re quite simplistic but Satrapi shows individuality with small touches and conveys emotion with them quite effectively.  There is some violence depicted, but it’s not realistic enough to bother anyone, just enough to show that it must have been horrible.

Overall, Persepolis is a book I’d definitely recommend.  It’s a fast and even enjoyable read that really touches on important – even essential – issues about the world today. I’m definitely interested in reading its sequel and hope my library has that one, too.

I am an Amazon Associate. I borrowed this book from my local library.

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Review: The Complete Maus, Art Spiegelman

This haunting graphic novel depicts the Holocaust through the eyes of Art’s father, a Polish Jew called Vladek who suffered greatly but survived the concentration camps.  Starting with the meeting of his father and his mother, The Complete Maus carries their story through to the end of the horrors, juxtaposed with Art’s present-day life and struggle to appease his elderly father while recording his history before it’s too late.  By using animals to represent groups of people (Nazis are cats, Jews are mice, French are frogs, and so on), the author strengthens his allegory and makes this book into an unforgettable and horrifying piece of art.

I hesistated for a few weeks before writing this review.  Another review is surely excessive because I’ve seen tons out there.  Still, my thoughts wanted a place, and when it comes down to it, this graphic novel hasn’t left me alone yet.

Perhaps what’s most striking about this particular tale is that Vladek is an ordinary old man. In some way, Holocaust survivors are expected to be supernaturally brave, intelligent, and in essence heroes.  They are that, but they are also normal people thrust into the worst situation imaginable and forced to cope or die or both.  Vladek has undoubtedly been shaped by his experience but not in the best ways.  He hoards food, he hoards money, because his world is still uncertain and he knows what deprivation is like.  This irritates everyone around him but the saddest part is that he is so normal.  It brings home to us the fact that ordinary people were suffered and died for no reason.  Vladek is startlingly like my grandpa and that makes the real story even more horrifying than it would have been without the frame.  It reminds us how lucky we are, as does Art’s constant struggle with his guilt over his role in his father’s life.

As I’m sure many others have, I have heard a lot of Holocaust stories over my lifetime. I was taught about it in school, given books about it, and chose on my own to read about it on numerous occasions.  That doesn’t lessen the impact of this one.  Since this one is set in Poland, and there is a lot of running around and hiding before Vladek and Anya are caught, I felt it was a little different than others.  The fact that it’s a graphic novel also made a difference.  Even in cartoon form, seeing the wasted bodies of the mice is upsetting.  The few real pictures added just make a huge impact, reminding us that these were real people.

Overall, this graphic novel is carefully crafted and deeply moving.  I don’t want to say something so horrifying is “good”, because that is impossible.  Rather, its power and stunning capacity to portray humanity and inhumanity through selected text and drawings makes it worth noting, remembering, and reading.

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Review: Watchmen, Alan Moore

In this AU America, superheroes have been outlawed for nearly 10 years.  War with Russia is imminent.  Nixon is still president.  Comic books feature pirates.  And someone has it out for the former superheroes, starting with the Comedian, who dies on the first page.  The suspicious Rorshach sets about warning the last of the masked marauders and gaining allies as it becomes slowly clear just what is happening to this world.

I’m not even sure how to review this.  It is my very first graphic novel, and as of writing I haven’t yet seen the film.  This story encompasses so much.  I found that I liked the graphic novel format far more than I expected to.  I liked how the panels revealed images to the careful observer and how I could picture all of the characters in my head while still enjoying a story.  (I can never picture characters in regular books in my head).  I found it extremely interesting that only one of these superheroes had actual powers, and he’s a far cry from Superman or Batman.  I loved the allegorical pirate comic story and how it sat neatly alongside the main story to add another perspective and shadow all of the emotions that the comic elicited.

I enjoyed getting to know these characters and their stories.  The book isn’t all that long but is far longer than I expected it to be, and took a similar amount of time to read.  I didn’t mind, and rather approached it by reading each of the 12 issues separately.  I think I would have gone mad reading it in serialized format though, given that most of the issues focus on one or two characters.  I know I’d have been dying to figure out what happened to the rest of them.  I was definitely sucked in.  Mostly, I am now looking forward to watching the film and reading this over again to get the full nuances of meaning that I know I missed the first time.

This is excellent and I would definitely recommend it.  It has even made me consider reading more graphic novels.  They might not be as deep as this one, but I really enjoyed the format as a nice change.

Buy Watchmen on Amazon.

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